10th grade students went on a trip to Iglesias Gardens to learn more about how gentrification and development is impacting the community land reclamation movement in Philadelphia. Mr. Anthony from the gardens talked to students about the complex legal nightmare that entraps a lot of land stewards and the systems that contribute to their land being taken away. After a tour of the gardens themselves, Mr. Anthony showed students a color coded map that showed which side lots in the area were at risk of being sold at sheriff sale, and who owned which plots in the area. One of the things that really stuck with students was that sometimes a resident or a group of land stewards legally had rights to a plot because they maintained the land for the proper amount of time as written in squatters rights, but the land was sold and taken from them illegally anyway. Students didn’t understand how this was possible. Mr. Anthony explained that sometimes developers will just let the community members go ahead and try to take them to court, because the developers know that they’ll always have more money and more access to better legal teams than the community members will have. And they will be able to pay someone to navigate all of the paperwork and bureaucracy in a way that the community members will not. In the meantime, while that all is happening, they tend to build the new developments as quickly as they can on the land. That way, by the time anything is actually sorted out legally, if it ever is, it’s too late – the house is already there. Students were very upset by this. Students connected this information to what they learned about land being taken from other groups, like Native Hawaiians.
Anonymous Student 1
One thing that was difficult for me as a teacher on the trip was that many students hated being there. A lot of them kept saying that the garden was “ghetto” and that it was “dirty” and “wasn’t even a garden.” After speaking with students and reflecting on my own experience growing up in Kensington, I came to the conclusion that many students think of “good” nature as being something that only exists outside of the city. They like going to longwood gardens, or some place for a picnic, or even camping. They like song birds that they see when they leave the city. They like creeks and rivers and lakes that they might fish in when they leave the city. But those things they associate with “good” and “clean” nature. The living things and the earth that exist inside of the city they often associate with “bad” or “dirty” nature. Like many of my students hate or are afraid of pigeons, and insist that they carry diseases. They are afraid of most bugs, even before they take the time to look what kind of bug it may be. And any plant that they see growing anywhere they assume is a weed. They will literally say things like “No, that’s not a plant miss. That’s a weed.” Some of them actually garden themselves, with their families. A boy the other day was showing me how well his roses are doing. But those plants they associate with manicured and clean gardening, vs. things that are growing without human intention they often view as bad and negative, without getting more information. This whole experience on the trip of kids complaining and refusing to go into the gardens actually helped me have a fruitful conversation about why they all have these views about the earth and living things in the city. So overall it was very fruitful. At the time I was very anxious and embarrassed because I was worried that we’d insulted Mr. Anthony, but he was very understanding and simply said “I was in high school too once. And they haven’t been exposed to this. That’s why it needed to happen.”
Students later helped with an action put on by Iglesias Gardens, when we did a phone zap to stop the sheriff sales of community side lots. Students called the sheriff, the mayor’s office, and council president Clarke. I created this slideshow for other teachers across the Philadelphia area to use in their classrooms as well if they were interested. The organizers for the Philadelphia Black Lives Matter Week of Action put the slideshow in their Week of Action activities as an option. Doing this phone zap is still useful even now, as the fight against the sheriff sales is ongoing.